This is the first of a two-part column. The second part will be published next week.
By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
The Lewiston MAINEiacs have been struggling financially for several years, and no other fan is more aware of that fact than me. What concerns me is what I believe was an attempt by MAINEiacs President Bill Schurman to shift the burden of its woes on the Cities of Lewiston-Auburn. I’m blowing the whistle and assessing a penalty for what, in my opinion, is a deceptive hit on the cities.
In a locally published article, Schurman was quoted as saying that in Canada, if a hockey team were struggling, the city’s leaders would ask what they could do to help. He indicated that there hasn’t been a lot of interest from city officials in helping the team.
I was incensed, so I scheduled an appointment to meet with Schurman at the Colisée. I shared with him my disappointment about his comments, and I asked him for a retraction. He refused. I then told him that I would write about it. So here goes:
Here is what the City of Lewiston has invested in the Colisée in order to provide the MAINEiacs with a home. The total original debt was $7,185,000—and $5,691,000 is still outstanding as of June 30, 2011. The final infrastructure piece matures in 2027.
If Mark Just, principal owner of the MAINEiacs, thinks he has a problem with losing $4 million, just look at what the taxpayers of Lewiston are still faced with.
Don’t tell me the city hasn’t stepped up to the plate! The City of Lewiston has gone above and beyond what it should and it did so to save the team. I was one of those who advocated for the city to take over the Colisée in order to keep the team here. I saw Mark Just sweating at that council meeting when that decision was made. It was a great relief for him, and he bought everyone drinks at Marguerita’s restaurant afterwards.
As for me, I committed to purchasing two season tickets the year prior to the team coming here to show that there would be support. When the team came, I followed through and have had season tickets for me and my wife ever since. I have traveled with my wife and son to see the MAINEiacs play in such Canadian cities as Gatineau, Victoriaville, Drummondville, Shawinigan, Quebec City and Chicoutimi in Quebec Province, and I have traveled to St. John and Moncton, New Brunswick for other games. I traveled to some of these cities on more than one occasion.
My son, who works for WMTW Channel 8, would even grab a camera and film the game on both his days on and days off to ensure that the MAINEiacs were on TV every game they played here.
I served on the MAINEiacs Development Council when they first came and then the Board of Directors of Lewy’s Legion for season ticket holders. As members, we would meet and discuss what could be done to continually improve fan support and season ticket sales. We advocated for marketing beyond the L-A area, but little if any of that happened. We were told they needed to work on their home base in L-A. (Strangely enough, the Maine Red Claws continually market here, despite of the fact that their entire season is always sold out.)
The Sun-Journal in one of its editorials termed me the MAINEiacs Number One fan after Lewy, the team’s mascot. My wife and I would volunteer to hand out various promotional items for the MAINEiacs as fans entered the arena. We would cook hot dogs and hamburgers annually at the street hockey tournaments in the Colisée parking lot.
On one occasion, I had a half dozen hamburger patties that were well done after everyone had eaten. I asked the then-president of the team to make an announcement that if anyone wanted them, they could have them. He picked up the microphone and said that “for whatever change in your pockets,” you can have the hamburgers. It made me so mad that they were being so cheap, I threw them in the trash. That is just one of several stories.
I also made referrals for organizations to advertise with the team.
The city had been losing some $500,000 a year as owners of the Colisée, and as mayor I advocated for its sale. We eventually sold it for $1 million to Jim Cain at Firland Management after no realistic proposals came in. We at least stopped the bleeding.
Just think, we have already saved nearly $2 million of taxpayer money that might not have been saved had we not sold the facility for the amount we did.
At a city council meeting when I was advocating for the sale of the Colisée, I also mentioned that we should re-negotiate the contracts with the MAINEiacs, as the team truly enjoyed a sweetheart deal that had the city locked in for some 15 years.
Shortly after, the MAINEiacs president asked me to step down as a board member of Lewy’s Legion, claiming that I had a conflict of interest now that I was mayor. It was easy for me to do, as insulting as it was, and it relieved me and my wife from volunteering to help the organization.
Despite this insult, after doing all I could to be of help to the organization, I was asked if I would attend a luncheon at the Cumberland Club in Portland with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Selection Committee to lure the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup competition to Portland because of its larger venue there.
I did so for the sake of the MAINEiacs organization, hoping to keep it financially healthy. I spoke French with the committee members. I felt we had an excellent proposal, but Rimouski got the nod.